Moving to Florida offers more benefits than just the beaches. That's because the Sunshine State is the freest in the nation, according to the fifth edition of the Freedom in the 50 States report, published Tuesday by the Cato Institute. Meanwhile, New York ranks right at the bottom.
Wondering where your state ranks? Check it out on the interactive map below:
Florida won the top spot with its economic policies. The state has no personal income tax, and its "state-level tax collections are more than a standard deviation and a half below the national average," the study says. The state also has lower-than-average levels of government consumption and debt.
From a regulatory point of view, Florida doesn't enjoy the same level of freedom due to a variety of factors, including land-use regulations, an $8.25/hour minimum wage, regulations on managed-care plans, and a bottom-five occupational freedom ranking. In terms of personal freedom, Florida ranks 11th thanks to civil asset forfeiture reforms and educational freedom. Florida also recognizes same-sex marriage due to the Supreme Court's 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges. The Florida state criminal code, however, still contains draconian mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses and allows for capital punishment.
New Hampshire, Indiana, Colorado, and Nevada round out the top five, respectively.
On the flip side, New York is the nation's least free state, and it's been that way for a while. "Economic freedom is the most significant weakness, but the state has not kept up with the rest of the country on personal freedom either," the study says. High taxes and debt, as well as rent control, lower its rankings in the fiscal and regulatory categories. From a personal freedom viewpoint, it's a mixed bag. Though the state has repealed most of the Rockefeller Drug Laws, there are strict regulations on tobacco sales and gun rights, and school choice programs are virtually nonexistent.
Hawaii, California, New Jersey, and Vermont, round out the bottom five.
The report was authored by William Ruger, vice president for research and policy at the Charles Koch Institute, and Jason Sorens, a lecturer at Dartmouth College's Department of Government. The study, first published by the Mercatus Center in 2009, ranks states "on the basis of how their policies promote freedom in the fiscal, regulatory, and personal realms."
The authors gathered data on more than 230 state and local policies that affect overall freedom, which they based "on an individual rights framework" that includes both personal and economic freedom. These markers encompass "a wide range of policy categories," the study says, "from taxation to debt, from eminent domain laws to occupational licensing, and from drug policy to educational choice."
Aside from giving interested readers the chance to see where their states rank, studies like these can actually help America become freer. As Reason's Nick Gillespie explained in 2016 after Ruger and Sorens released their previous Freedom in the 50 States report:
By calling attention to differences among the states in the level of personal and economic freedoms, Ruger and Sorens make a significant contribution to how states might function as laboratories of democracy and learn from the experiments carried out around the country. Armed with the information they present and the recommendations they make, the best thing we can all do is start working for change in our own local and state governments that expand the scope of freedom in all its manifestations.
Can't get enough of Ruger and Sorens? Reason's Katherine Mangu-Ward interviewed them back in 2011. Watch the exchange below: